The Heretic – Snippet 04

It has to be the nishterlaub talking, doesn’t it?

Was this why the priest kept it to themselves?  But if the nishterlaub spoke, why did they abandon it here in the storage house?  Obviously no one had been inside this building for a long, long time.

Three point five Duisberg years, said the high pitched voice.  It was opened for the delivery of a piano.

The meaning of what a piano was suddenly flooded Abel’s mind — along with quick images of its use.  Abel tried to grasp what he was being shown, but shook his head stubbornly after a moment.

“Cut that out,” he said aloud. “Stop making me think things I don’t ask to think.  Anyway, I get it.  It’s a kind of musical instrument, right?”

Correct.  The strings and other metal elements were stripped and recast.  You can see the remains and the keys in a pile by the door over there.

Abel turned and looked.  There was indeed a mass of broken wood and a neat stack of rectangular white stones.  They looked like giant teeth.

Boggles the mind. Three years ago the piano — and nobody has been back since, said the low voice.

If I were a priest, I would spend all my time talking to nishterlaub, Abel thought.  How could you not, once you knew it could answer, that it could tell you what it was, and, more importantly, what it did?

Abel looked away from the piano remains and turned to the holy item behind him.  Its surface was a kaleidoscope of colors.

More plastic, Abel thought.  Pretty.

It was larger than he was and looked like an enormous flitterdont.  Well, it had what looked like wings, anyway.  Flitterdonts hunted in flocks and could be dangerous.  Abel had been warned by one crusty old Scout in the caravan that the flitters sometimes made a meal of human blood.  Maybe the Scout had been having him on.  Maybe not.  The flitters allegedly lived in the Escarpment overhangs, and there were plenty of those around here.

But this thing, whatever it was, was not alive, and didn’t look likely to suck his blood.  He gulped, then after a moment of indecision, reached out and touched its smooth surface of swirling colors.

Abel tried to forget about flitters and to clear his mind and concentrate.  Maybe the next flood of information wouldn’t make him feel so dizzy if he was prepared.

“Okay, tell me,” he said.

An impulse flyer, used for personal transport. This is a foot mounted model peculiar to this sector, pre-Collapse, and this one obviously belonged to someone with extravagant design tastes, perhaps an adolescent. This flyer here is perched on its side, of course.  Obviously the priests had no clue as to how to arrange it after depositing it.  Imagine the item rotated horizontally.  That is its correct position.

Abel ran his hand along the surface of the flyer, trying to do just that.  His hand passed over a depression in the surface.  Nearby was another similar depression.  Both were about two elbs across and a half-elb deep.

Footholds.  They activated the stabilization field and allowed the passenger to ride standing up without fear of overbalancing.

I don’t get it, Abel thought.  They stood on this and flew?

Show the boy, said the gruff voice.

I am not sure that such a young subject will be able to properly integrate a full virtual immersion.  There is considerable risk to his neural networks.

He’ll either adapt or break.  Either way, we’ll have our answer, the gruff voice replied.  Show him.

“Yeah,” said Abel.  “Show me!”

Very well.  Observe:

And then Abel was flying.

* * *

He was standing on the flyer in the air.  The ground was far, far beneath him.  For a moment, he almost did break.  This was impossible.  He was outside.  He was flying like a flitterdont through the air.  The world spun like crazy as dizziness overcame Abel.  He started to fall.

But couldn’t.  Something held him in place.

Stabilization fields.  Of course, this is merely a simulation, but it is an extremely precise approximation of what a flyer ride was like.

Abel shook his head, regained his balance.  He looked down again.  Far below were the roofs of Hestinga.  It was perched on the edge of the oxbow lake that formed the great Treville oasis, one of the few places within the land that was more than a day’s walk from the River.  From this height, the waters of Lake Treville sparkled as a small breeze caused the surface to ripple.

I’m flying!  Am I really flying?

Unfortunately, no, answered the high pitched voice.  As mentioned, this is a form of make believe.  A projection based on extrapolation.  You are still physically within the storehouse.  But given the historical records in my databanks and an accurate survey of the local geography prior to landfall, this simulation should be accurate to within one tenth of one percent of a hundred.

In other words, lad, this is what it feels like to fly, said the gruff voice.  How do you like it?

Abel looked around.  Far to the west, the River was a shining strip barely visible on the horizon.  Between were the rolling hills of the Treville salient with its massive irrigation system, its ditches and canals, derived from the River and culminating in Lake Treville.  Abel’s father had explained to him how it all worked, how the alluvial paddocks and washes along the way were watered by a system of ditches and aqueducts, and coaxed to yield wheat and barley, flax and rice.

Duisberg barley, said the high pitch voice.  The planet was renowned for beer and whiskey.  Liquor was the principle export, pre-Collapse. Since settlement, Duisberg has remained mostly agricultural, which is probably why the Sector Command Control Unit AZ12-i11-e Mark XV remained set in his ways.  Cultural accretion often creates waves of repetitive behavior to which even artificial intelligent units find themselves subject.